John Milius opens fire on new ‘Red Dawn’: ‘It’s a stupid thing to do’

March 26, 2010 | 8:00 p.m.

Red Dawn

Over at 24 Frames, our sister blog, John Milius, the director and writer of the original “Red Dawn” (as well as the co-writer of  “Apocalypse Now” “Jeremiah Johnson” and many other manly-man films) tells Rachel Abramowitz that the upcoming remake of the film is a few rounds short of a full clip.

“I think it’s a stupid thing to do. The movie is not very old,” said Milius, who’s not involved in the new film but was given a chance to read the new script. “It was terrible. There was a strange feeling to the whole thing. They were fans of the movie, so they put in stuff they thought was neat. It’s all about neat action scenes and has nothing to do with story.”

In the original film, the Soviet Union has invaded the continental United States, and a group of young men and women (Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Jennifer Grey, among others) band together as a guerrilla group, nicknamed the Wolverines, to fight off the occupiers. In the 2010 edition, directed by Dan Bradley and starring Chris Hemsworth and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, the villains are the Chinese.

Though the new baddies might tap into American fears about a rising China, to Milius it makes little political sense. “There’s only one example in 4,000 years of Chinese territorial adventurism, and that was in 1979, when they invaded Vietnam, and to put it mildly they got their [butts] handed to them,“ said Milius, noting that China built a wall to separate itself from invaders. “Why would China want us? They sell us stuff. We’re a market. I would have done it about Mexico.”

Oh, and for the record, Milius is no fan of the “Conan the Barbarian” revival talk either, telling Abramowitz: “No one wants their movie remade, especially when the movies take on a life of their own.” Wow, Milius doesn’t hold back does he? Well, this is the guy who put this classic exchange on the page:

Mongol leader: “What is best in life?”

Conan: “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.”

— Geoff Boucher


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Upper photo: Cast members of “Red Dawn” circa 1984. Credit: MGM

Lower photo: “The Losers.”  Credit: Warner Bros.


33 Responses to John Milius opens fire on new ‘Red Dawn’: ‘It’s a stupid thing to do’

  1. Head-On-A-Pike says:

    What business does Milius have being so protective of Conan the Barbarian? He himself appropriated Robert E Howard's character from his pulp tales of the 20's and 30's and rendered him virtually unrecognizable, choosing to take the indomitable Cimmerian and turn him into a whiny, clueless, revenge-obsessed ex-slave played by a lumbering bodybuilder.
    Anyone who wants to know how good a Conan film could be — what an amazingly magnetic and fascinating character he really is — should simply take the time to read some of REH's original Conan stories, because it doesn't look like Marcus Nispel is going to deliver anything particularly faithful to the source either.

  2. Cal Godot says:

    Milius is one of the great unsung talents of the American Cinema explosion of the 1960s/70s. In my view (as well as his, I think), he became rather trampled-over by Hollywood's decidedly leftish lurch during those decades. Milius is unrepentantly right-wing, a military afficionado with a good understanding of geopolitics. To most people around these parts, he comes off as reactionary, and few ever want to actually engage with the opinions he seems to represent. While he is "opinionated," these opinions are backed by erudite education and a more than superficial understanding (which in and of itself puts him at odds with about 80% of Americans). I think Milius emphasizes some of the more abrasive aspects of his character in order to put off stupid people, but he is a very intelligent man capable of elaborate discourse on geopolitics and military matters. He is of course correct about China – when I first read they would be the enemy in the remake, I laughed and said exactly what Milius said. (We differ on one thing: I wouldn't have chosen Mexico, unless he's talking about working the drug war into it and having a cartel overtake the Mexican government. No, my Red Dawn would involve an internal leftist coup led by a charismatic President who dismantles Congress and the Courts.)
    Geoff, I'd love to read an interview between you and Milius, just surveying his career and soliciting his opinions on current affairs. Were you to do so, I'll bet it would be a heavily read and commented post!

  3. Dale Herd says:

    Giving Milious credit for writing: Mongol Leader: "What is best in life?"
    Conan: "To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.” implies he thought it up himself. Please. He didn't. He simply used Ghengis Khan's great quote.

  4. Brett says:

    Oh, yes, John, because a Soviet invasion with Cuban troops into Colorado in the mid-1980's is so much more believable than a Chinese invasion. Two cash-strapped countries try to infiltrate the US from the heart of the Rockies and somehow succeed. The original "Red Dawn" was one of the most implausible stories to be written in the 80's.
    As for Milius' issues with a new "Conan": they're not remaking your movie, sir. They're making a new movie based on the same source material. Maybe this time, they'll adapt Robert E. Howard's stories a little bit better a much more faithfully.

    • Knativeknight says:

      This comes from the same decade as 48 hrs,highlander,& pretty in pink! I think the grim plodding warrior holds his on!but that's just coming from a book reading, comic book collecting movie goer.

  5. George Semel says:

    John Milius is one of the better under used movie directors around. And he is right the only reason to do a remake is because the work has already been done and you don't have any idea's. Gee just look at what a mess the Remake of Around the world in 80 days was, never mind the money spent. They could have for less than 5% of that money, remastered the Mike Todd original and put it out on the big screen and make a profit even. John is a very good writer/director and historian, On top of that, his work on Rough Rider's gotten the Army to re look at some things Lt.Col. Teddy Roosevelt did in Cuba and well he has been awarded the MOH, along with TR jr makes them only one of two fathers and sons so honored. John had a big hand in that. I will bet coin none of you know who the other father and Son with regard to the MOH are?

  6. Brian C. says:

    The original Conan the Barbarian (1982) is a cinematic masterpiece…I'm sick of all the whining about "it's not the original story" Filmaking and screenwriting is a completely different art form than print(fiction)novels people. Milius stayed true to Robert E. Howard's vision and even though Frank Frazetta did not work on the picture…the cinemtography and color palette of the film is a love letter to him. Not to mention Arnold in one of his most iconic roles "…and if you do not listen, then the hell with you"

  7. AtheistConservative says:

    To all you whiny pedants trying to take Milius down, let me just say this:
    The original "Red Dawn" and "Conan the Barbarian" have withstood the test of time. They are classics, and always will be.
    The new ones will be forgotten as soon as they leave theaters. Which will be about one week after they enter.

  8. Head-On-A-Pike says:

    @ Brian C.
    Don’t be so dismissive.
    Have you actually read Howard? I guarantee you, the author would barely recognize his own creation in Milius’ film. And certainly, he would find no trace of the main theme present throughout his own work: barbarism vs “civilization”.
    Milius has always said that CTB was the Viking picture he always wanted to make, and thus it became the means to and end, having little to do with the original author or his vivid character. Conan is no Viking (nor is he of some sort of Germanic background; he is a proto-Celt). Understand, I think it’s a perfectly decent movie, when I pretend it’s not supposed to be Conan.
    It’s rather presumptuous to assume that I don’t know the difference between cinema and literature. I have been an avid consumer of both for over four decades, and studied both. I am very aware of the need for refashioning a story or property from one medium to make it fit another.
    And I say that Howard’s short stories are already incredibly cinematic to begin with. Many critics suggest that a character arc needs to be grafted onto them to make the character more interesting and relatable to a film audience, but I believe this is because most people give the original stories and their author little credit, seeing them more as fodder for pastiche storytelling than compelling and resonant tales in their own rite. In Howard’s tales, Conan learns many lessons, and experiences plenty of growth, without tacking on a hackneyed revenge plot and turning him into some kind of student samurai. When you take a self-made man, who went forth into the world out of wanderlust and restlessness; who forges his own lofty destiny through sheer will and charisma, and turn him into a sad orphan who only finds himself free on the whim of his slaver, and even then, still under the yolk of his own bitter and painful past, unable to get on with his life without first seeking revenge, you have effectively created a new character, who needs a new name. The character Schwarzenegger portrayed in Milius’s film is so far removed from Howard’s character, that I fail to see the point in even calling him Conan.
    Of course, I do understand that changes need to be made to any written work to make it film-able, and Howard’s stories are no exception, but so far this process — where this particular author is concerned — has been completely disrespectful and dismissive.
    Again, if you believe CTB “stayed true to Robert E. Howard’s vision”, I question whether you have actually read Howard. Perhaps it’s just been a while since you did.
    And your mention of Frazetta — a great artist to be sure, and a huge influence on me growing up — only suggests even further that you are beholden to popular culture’s gross and clichéd misconceptions about Howard’s creation. Certainly those paintings made for spectacular book covers (they certainly drew me in), but they barely represented the content. Frazetta himself admits to not having read the stories he was illustrating.

  9. Douglas says:

    "Two cash-strapped countries try to infiltrate the US from the heart of the Rockies and somehow succeed. The original "Red Dawn" was one of the most implausible stories to be written in the 80's."
    Except that their imploding domestic economies never stopped their foreign aggression. Afghanistan, anyone? Angola? The Soviets devoted their GNP to the aim of communist military expansion across the world. People may have been going hungry at home. The Red Army most definitely was not. Where do you think all those AK-47's still being used across the world came from? Canada? The Soviets were quite adept at conquest. Ask the Czechs. Ask the Poles. It still amazes me that the Finns were able to hold them at bay until Hitler invaded. While I think Milius underestimates China's current and future ambitions, he's largely right about China not having the capability to invade the US right now. They don't even have the capability to land naval infantry on Taiwan yet. The Soviets, however, had a vast airborne infantry corps, with the ability to air drop heavy supplies. A combined Soviet-Cuban invasion was plausible back then, especially with Nicaragua being used as a staging area for an invasion route over land through a destabilized Mexico.

  10. Caterina Pryde says:

    Personally, I'd love to see a new Conan movie series, that follows the original B&W comics of my youth. They were fascinating, sexy, scandalous. And Conan was a smart, clever "barbarian" who spent a lot of effort on bringing down the corrupt. But he was also out for money for himself, and he would walk away from a hopeless situation, making him a very different, very human hero.

  11. Roberto says:

    George Semel said: "I will bet coin none of you know who the other father and Son with regard to the MOH are?"
    Sorry I found this discussion so late, but I can answer that: Arthur MacArthur, who won his MOH at the battle of Missionary Ridge in November of 1863 during the Civil War when he was only 18 years old, while his son, General Douglas MacArthur, won his MOH after Corregidor in March 1942 during WWII when he was 62 years old.

  12. Brendan says:

    Conan the Barbarian is in fact the greatest movie of all time, beating Aliens by a hair. It is a sure thing the new movie will be a desecration equally as bad, if not worse, than it's sequel, Conan the Destroyer. Milius should be tapped to to do Conan the King as a sequel, and Arnold should come out of retirement to reprise the role. The Red Dawn idea is utterly stupid.

  13. HK says:

    Not to nit-pick, but he's wrong, actually China engaged in "territorial adventurism" twice, the other time was during our Korean War. Not to mention they have threatened to go to war with us over Taiwan. Also, if he were to study up, he would learn that since the fall of the USSR, China has built their military for the specific purpose of engaging us. To them it is inevitable.

  14. "I would have done it about Mexico."
    That one's already been done, it's Robert Rodriguez's upcoming movie Machete where a Army of undocumented Democrats of Mexican heritage hack people to death with machetes for the crime of opposing Immigration reform. I heard rumors there is a scene in the film where Machete necklaces some Tea-Bagger kids who wear T-shirts with a US flag on them to school on Cinco De Mayo.

  15. Jade says:

    Hi, I was hunting for recent news on Mr Milius as his work on Conan was magnificent! To this day it is still a genre leading masterpiece. The story, filming, cast, musical score. It is a tragedy that he doesn't entertain the idea of capturing his brilliance one last time with another Conan movie which we've come to understand would take place towards the end of Conan's life (The King). For me the Conan film sage should die so long as Milius is not a part of it.
    On another note, It's unfortunate that Johns understanding of Chinas 'territorial adventurism' is a tad flawed. It's not far off where China began it's, shall we say, barbaric invasion and slaughter of the Tibetan people. This is Genocide in the clearest sense of the word. It is despicable and should never be forgotten. Of course there is also their acts of war crimes against Taiwan, a sovereign and foreign country.
    Anyway, I hope John rethinks his stance on a new Film or at least Hollywood realizes that no one on earth can take this reign. (Destroyer was a complete travesty and an embarrassment, not to mention disrespectful to the genius of R. E. Howard.) – Peace.

  16. Til says:

    "The movie is not very old"?
    Milius himself is making Genghis Khan for 2010, when one just came out in 2008. Of course the difference is that the 2008 version had an asian person playing in that asian role. Milius prefers a movie where a white dude (Mickey Rourke) plays the asian historical figure. I wonder if he would ask an asian dude to play a Jew.


  17. Alison says:

    Not very old? It was made in 1984 for God's sakes! Only 26 years old!!! LOL

  18. guest says:

    I don't think the point was to be realistic about china invading america, its a movie, for entertainment purposes. And they basically did the same thing for Tron, sure the story was changed but its a remake just like the new Red Dawn. Maybe they wanted to make it less cheesy….. (i still want the Star Wars Hat Robert wears in the beginning of the old Red Dawn, best hat ever!)

  19. giantslor says:

    This is the same guy who wrote the video game "Homefront," where North frickin' Korea takes over the United States. I guess he's OK with ludicrous scenarios as long as he's the one getting paid for writing them.

  20. Curasarion says:

    Some remakes are so bad they are soon forgotten. Why do I think the new Red Dawn is quickly going to fall in that category? Hearing the plot, I keep remembering another stupid film about China digging tunnels across the Pacific to invade America. The Old Red Dawn was fun — it fit well for its time and it had a great cast. It was a popcorn and Coke movie – fun but not serious in any way. At today's ticket prices I don't this new flick will recover its advertizing budget.

  21. sh says:

    Just saw the trailer this weekend. I had hoped that I had misunderstood the north korean enemy reference, but unfortunately it seems that this is true. A chinese-russian future partnership with possible funding from hostile unnamed sources would have at least seemed theretically possible if it was assumed that the eu and us had an economic metltdown from years of deficits and some of the “lenders” had come to collect their debts. However this plot is not possible with even the most generous background. Hk is right on with hhis comments about chinese intervention in korea and threatened invasion of taiwan; the invasion of tibet and threatened invasion of vietnam during the 1960s and 70s to counter our presence there are other examples

  22. amos lantieri says:

    The 1984 version of "Red Dawn" was ahead of it's time. As we may be seeing in the near future, when the current administration goes for the "gun-grab", using Black UN troops, we may see the plot coming to life.

  23. Richard Testa says:

    Conan The Barbarian was great for what is was I agree and so is its director regardless of it's faithfulness to the original comic and story. As for the political comments about the Soviet Union having been a plausible threat, and China as well, I find it interesting how the U.S. needs to manufacture it's enemies when the real enemies are the greedy 1% in power that control our government, and the media (including Hollywood which is now owned by a few corporations). This mirage and manufacturing of public fear is essential to keep the public in afraid of an enemy, even when these enemies are fabricated. China is also controlled by a small minority of wealthy people who use the U.S. as propaganda to rob from it's people. The same was done in the Soviet Union. Now the new enemy is Korea, and Iran, and one-by-one the powers in this country will manipulate the U.S. citizens to attack and to control oil, and to complain when China tries to do the same. If we were so concerned about China then why would we allow ourselves to become so dependent on their products as a nation? I do not think we truly have anything to fear from any of these nations but every design and game will be pulled to make us believe so. Milius is a gifted storyteller and filmmaker and also part of the propaganda machine to keep U.S. citizens afraid and in the dark about what's really happening. And we all seem to need our enemies to blame rather than to look within.

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